Protecting Marine Life in the Gulf of Mexico
June 22, 2011
The federal agency that oversees offshore drilling is finally taking steps to analyze the impacts of powerful seismic surveys on marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) has requested that the National Marine Fisheries Service review the effects of intense, underwater seismic blasts on whales and dolphins in the region, and develop regulations that reduce adverse impacts to these species. Last year, Sierra Club and its allies sued BOEMRE, an agency of the U.S. Department of Interior, for allowing oil exploration using noisy seismic surveys without conducting an environmental analysis, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In addition, Sierra Club filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue BOEMRE for permitting these activities in violation of the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts. While these actions remain pending, it has put the necessary pressure on the agency resulting in this latest development.
Seismic exploration surveys use arrays of high-powered air guns to search for oil and generate the loudest human sounds in the ocean short of explosives. The blasts, which can reach more than 250 decibels, can cause hearing loss in marine mammals, disturb essential behaviors such as feeding and breeding over vast distances, mask communications between individual whales and dolphins, and reduce catch rates of commercial fish. While certain adverse impacts on whales and dolphins are unavoidable if offshore oil development is allowed, mitigation measures, such as seasonal limitations on seismic surveys during times of the year when vulnerable species are present, can greatly reduce impacts. A comprehensive review of seismic activity and the development of robust regulations requiring strong mitigation would provide significant benefits to species.
Photo: Larry Allan
February 9, 2011
On February 9, 2011, Sierra Club and its allies sent a 60-day notice of intent to sue to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) for approving seismic oil drilling exploration activities in the Gulf of Mexico that cause significant harm to a number of sensitive marine species. The notice letter follows closely on the Club's pending challenge to the government's broad approval of geologic and geophysical exploration activities in the Gulf without any site specific environmental analysis in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.
July 16, 2010
On June 30, Sierra Club and its allies took legal action to protect whales and other marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, and Gulf Restoration Network filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (formerly the U.S. Mineral Management Service), regarding the use of powerful seismic surveys throughout the Gulf that are known to disrupt marine mammal feeding and breeding and basic communication over vast areas of the ocean. The groups contend that the Bureau failed to adequately analyze the substantial impacts of seismic surveys on marine life before permitting activities in the Gulf, in clear violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Each year, the oil and gas industry conducts dozens of powerful seismic surveys throughout the Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf. These seismic surveys use some of the loudest underwater sounds generated by humans to explore oil and gas reserves below the ocean floor. For months on end, large swaths of the Gulf are inundated with high-intensity sound pulses 250 decibels or more at their source, billions of times more intense than the noise levels known to compromise feeding, breeding, and basic communication in endangered species of whales.
Whales and dolphins are known to be highly acoustically sensitive and rely primarily on sound for survival. They are particularly vulnerable to intense underwater noise impairing their ability to feed, breed, nurse their young, and communicate. Serious injuries from underwater noise can lead to permanent or temporary hearing loss, internal hemorrhaging, stranding, and death.
The same wildlife populations contending with the long-term consequences of the Gulf spill will also have to contend with the industryÂ’s seismic surveys. For example, the GulfÂ’s small population of sperm whales, whose nursery in the Mississippi Canyon has been overrun with oil, must persist amid regular booming from the industry surveys, which appear to impair their ability to feed.
Sierra Club and its allies are requesting an order that rescinds the BureauÂ’s inadequate and illegal analysis and compels compliance with NEPA for all future surveys. In addition, the Club is calling on the Bureau to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement for seismic activities in the Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf.
To read more about Sierra ClubÂ’s work to protect the Gulf, click here.
Details and Documents:
Notice of Intent to Sue for Approval of Seismic Oil Drilling Exploration Activities in the Gulf that Threatens Marine Species
February 9, 2011
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